Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - September - 2015 Issue

Images from the American West from the William Reese Company

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Images of the American West.

The William Reese Company has published their Bulletin 38. Images of the American West. It features a variety of types of material – books, paintings, drawings, prints, and photographs. The subjects of these images, naturally, are found in the American West. The dates are from the 19th to the early 20th century. Many are quite artistic, even if their primary purpose at the time was relaying information about places unknown to most people on the outside. Here are a few of these western images.

 

We begin with the item pictured on the front cover of this catalogue. It is a photograph taken from Taos Pueblo, a cooperative effort from one of the West's great writers, Mary Austin, and its greatest photographer, Ansel Adams. Mary Austin was near the end of her career at the time this collaborative work was published in 1930. She had spent many years studying the Desert Southwest, particularly the Indians, whose rights she defended at a time when not many did. In 1903, she published her best known work, The Land of Little Rain. Later in life, she lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico. At the time this book was published, she had reached 72 years of age. Photographer Ansel Adams, on the other hand, was near the beginning of his career. He was just 28 years old, and this was his first book, but his photographs of the West had already begun to be celebrated. While both were natives of California, and did most of their work there, this period found them in Santa Fe. Item 1. Priced at $60,000.

 

This pictorial letter sheet comes with an ironic caption: Tremendous Excitement! Samuel Whittaker and Robert McKenzie Rescued from the Authorities, and Hung by the Vigilance Committee... That certainly gives new meaning to the term "rescued." I'd have taken my chances with the authorities. This was 1851 San Francisco, and the Vigilance Committee was hard at work, taking on the responsibilities of the inept or corrupt local officials. Whittaker and McKenzie were part of what was known as the "Sydney Ducks." They were immigrants from Australia, the a British penal colony, though the Ducks weren't necessarily transports. They were criminals who did a good job of terrorizing the locals, but as the image on this sheet attests, they were no match for the Vigilance Committee. It displays the two men hung from posts above the top floor of a building while the caption tells us 15,000 people watched. Item 13. $1,500.

 

Next is a magnificent book, described by Howes as "the only western color plates comparable in beauty to those by Bodmer." Captain Henry James Warre, accompanied by Lt. Mervin Vavasour, was sent to Oregon by Britain to gather information about the region. Oregon was occupied jointly by America and Britain at the time, but America was in an expansionist mood and the English were wary of their intentions. Warre posed as a wealthy adventurer. He was a skilled artist, using his free time to draw some of the sights he encountered. By the time the men made it back home, Britain and the United States had already reached an agreement over borders, so his information wasn't really needed. Warre instead used what he had learned and his drawings to produce this book, published in 1848: Sketches in North America and the Oregon Territory, by Captain H. Warre. It contains 20 hand-colored lithograph views plus a map. Item 48. $160,000.

 

Item 29 consists of five watercolors of Pima Indians of southern Arizona drawn by a young man passing through on his way to the gold fields of California in 1849. Robert Benjamin Hart was only 15 years old, but his family had mined gold back in his home state of Virginia, so evidently they were seeking greener pastures. Why they picked the southern route in the middle of summer is unclear. They passed through the Pima territory in late July, when temperatures most likely exceeded 100 degrees. They must have rested with the Indians for awhile as he drew these five scenes of Aravaipa Canyon, including one in a tent with a group of Pima Indians. Hart made it to California, but evidently didn't like it as he returned to Virginia the following year, got married, had seven children, moved to Kentucky, and disappeared into history. $17,500.

 

Here is another fine drawing from an amateur artist. It depicts Fort D. A. Russell, Wyoming Territory, in 1869. The fort, and the adjacent city of Cheyenne, were founded two years earlier to serve the Union Pacific, which was busy building its share of the transcontinental railroad at the time. It was built to protect the workers from Indians, who must not have been as friendly as the Pima Mr. Hart encountered on his journey. Cheyenne would soon become a major trade city with the completion of the railroad, and the fort would eventually evolve into today's Francis E. Warren Air Force Base. The artist who drew this picture has signed it "A. F. Alden, Del. Aug. 1869." We do not know who Alden was, but most likely either a soldier or an employee of the railroad. Item 3. $12,500.

 

The William Reese Company may be reached at 203-789-8081 or amorder@reeseco.com. Their website is www.williamreesecompany.com.

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